GRANVILLE, France (AP) – French trawler owners in Normandy reacted with confusion and dismay after President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday extended the deadline for the British government to clear more French fishing vessels, subject to a post-Brexit dispute between the two countries.
Macron said Britain now has until at least Thursday to allow more French boats to fish in British waters or face consequences. France has threatened to ban British ships from some of its ports and to tighten controls on ships and trucks carrying British goods if no solution is found.
“We don’t know what to expect. We are learning new things every day, ”trawler owner Samuel Deshayes told The Associated Press in Granville, a coastal town in Normandy not far from the British Channel Island of Jersey. “We won’t give up until everyone gets a license.”
Fishing is a small industry economically for both countries but with inordinate diplomatic importance, and the dispute is an important test for Britain’s relations with the European Union after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Fishing is also symbolically important to Great Britain and France, which have long and cherished maritime traditions. Since the start of the year, the two sides have controlled their waters, subject to the Brexit trade deal the UK signed when it left the European Union. The French and British governments accuse each other of violating the trade agreement.
As he prepared to leave Granville at 4 a.m. to fish for scallops and sea snails, fisherman Jimmy Montreuil said he felt “in the dark” about how long he could fish freely. The region is also rich in lobsters, sea bream and other fish.
Many French fishermen point the finger at the Channel Islands, including Jersey and Guernsey, which are autonomous dependencies of the British crown that have crucial control over their own territorial waters.
France said Jersey, which is only 14 miles (about 22 kilometers) off the French coast, has not issued enough licenses to French ships and suggested this could restrict energy supplies the Channel Islands, which depend heavily on French electricity. ..
“Jersey – I don’t know why they’re causing problems. Even the English don’t quite understand why Jersey is resisting, ”Deshayes said.
The Jersey government responded by issuing 49 temporary permits to French boats this week. He said vessels will be able to fish in Jersey waters until Jan. 31 to “allow time” to obtain the additional data needed to issue permanent licenses.
Emmanuel Lecoufle, owner of the French trawler Arc en Ciel in Granville, said the new permits “are not enough. There are still 200 boats waiting. It’s nothing at all, 49 licenses, ”he said.
Meanwhile, owners of French trawlers who were granted extended licenses said they still did not understand what would happen next.
Macron’s office said on Monday that talks would continue this week and that no action would be taken until a meeting on Thursday.
A French presidency official said on Tuesday that talks were “moving forward” and that France hoped to “move forward” with the fisheries dispute to focus on bigger issues, such as climate change.
“Neither we nor the British want this to go wrong,” said the official, who has not been allowed to be named publicly.
The British government said throughout the conflict that it was not engaged in negotiations and that it was entirely up to France to end the conflict.
The London government hailed Macron’s decision to extend the deadline and said a meeting in Paris on Thursday between UK Brexit Minister David Frost and French Europe Minister Clément Beaune would cover a range of questions – not just fishing.
“We have always said that we want to defuse this and have always said that we always have an open door to discuss any other evidence that France or the EU might have on any additional vessel that they would like to have a license,” said said UK Environment Minister George Eustice. told Sky News.
Eustice said it appears a British scallop dredge – the Cornelis Gert Jan – which French authorities seized last month have been released.
Thomas Adamson in Paris and Pan Pylas in London contributed to this report.
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